I recently decided to hire an artist to do some custom work for me. I put up an ad online and took bids from a couple dozen artists.I ended up going with one very professional individual for the bulk of the work, but one artist emailed me and basically said that they were just starting their career and their portfolio wasn't extensive, but they could really use the experience. Having been in the very same situation only a little while ago myself, I empathised and asked if I could see a sketch.

Long story short the interaction was although short, quite frustrating, besides increasing the quote halfway through (which I paid, in good faith) they repeatedly

  • Didn't perform real revisions, with only token changes that had no real impact on the piece

  • Would not answer questions or discuss options

  • Would go dark for days at a time and then come back with a piece that looked nothing like the previous and yet still not what I asked for

  • Constantly seemed in a hurry to finish the piece

  • Pointed out how difficult every single revision was

At a certain point, after a particularly rude email I paid off the piece and decided to cut them loose.

Now my real question.In light of the fact that they are new and possibly don't even know what they did wrong, do I let them know that I am utterly unsatisfied with to some extent their work, but more importantly their unprofessional interactions and non-existent customer service? Or do I just live and let lie? I know that for me personally I can just move on, but someone once told me that a hard truth early on can be a huge help. So my question is, would it be helpful if I were to let them know what they did wrong here, or would that just be picking a fight?

EDIT: This question has gotten more answers than I expected, though surprisingly only one took the perspective of the artist. I have selected this as the accepted answer on the grounds that while I acknowledge that they should not have been paid in full for unsatisfactory work, I did so in order to take the moral (and legal) high ground. Making sure that they have no meaningful cause to complain about me as a client. To those saying I should be less empathetic, while fair, misses the crux of the issue, I hired them in the first place because I empathize with them and wanted to give them the chance to test their skills and improve.

The specific aim of the question is to establish a consensus on whether or not pointing out numerous egregious errors would be helpful to them or simply cause unnecessary conflict. The amount of money for the piece was trivial, and it was a personal project and thus nothing was lost, no matter what action or inaction I were to choose, there would be no meaningful gain or loss to myself or anyone that I care about, making such considerations irrelevant.

  • 3
    You need to balance the effort involved and potential bad reaction against the value to you, which depends on how much you care to help someone who's new to the professional world. We can't make that judgement call for you.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 7:15
  • 2
    In situations like these, I offer my advice, but I'm not married to it. What I mean is that I give my advice and my suggestions, but I don't commit to whether or not the other person follows through. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 9:23
  • On a different but related note, I would treat this the same way as filing a complaint at a restaurant or the like where I am not expecting anything in return. I just file the complaint and move on. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 9:25

6 Answers 6


I suspect the freelancer's perspective on this story would be quite different. I expect they were woefully unprepared for the amount of input you would have into the design. They probably thought you would give them a brief, they would make a thing, you would pay for it, have a nice day. But instead:

  • Even though it was perfect, you asked for changes, and they interpreted your requests as trivial or token ones, which they performed, but you were not satisfied with
  • you kept asking questions and wanting to discus multiple options for how to change something they were satisfied with
  • they had other things to do and thought they would be done with you by now, but you wanted to talk regularly until it was done, and were irritated when they "went dark" to work on other things or have time off
  • when they brought you changed versions you acknowledged they were very definitely changed, but frustratingly not that they were now perfect
  • despite objecting to changes, telling you changes were difficult and unwanted, making it clear they wanted to be done and even raising the fee, you would not just accept whatever they had produced so far

Until finally, when they lost their temper and sent a rude email, you did, and you paid the whole bill. I suspect they have you filed under "difficult client" and that any efforts you expend to show them that actually perfectly normal clients have these expectations are unlikely to succeed. After 10 or 20 "difficult clients" in a row, perhaps they will understand where the problem lies. But for a first time? Not so much.

Your wish to help is admirable. I suspect, though, that it will fall on deaf ears.

  • 2
    Interesting analysis. I agree that the artist probably has quite a different view of the interaction. However, many of the point you list stem from a severe misunderstanding of the client-customer relationship (the artist's misunderstanding, not yours). And so, perhaps this young artist does need a reality check.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 14:45
  • 2
    I expect so, but I also expect it will take more than one such experience before it starts to sink in at all. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 14:55
  • You make excellent, well written points, I have marked this as the accepted answer
    – Devon M
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 2:06

To protect my own interests and reputation I wouldn't pay a freelancer in full for inadequate work. Furthermore, I wouldn't bother giving them constructive criticism.

Helping them improve is not your responsibility; you gave them a chance and you lost out. You don't owe them anything.

Business is business. You're not helping some friend's kid out of kindness.

  • I generally agree, except I find (partial) non-payment inconsistent; it is the harshest form of the unrequested feedback you shouldn't bother yourself with. With new contractors, I plan small enough to pay in-full, giving no feedback that isn't requested. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:22
  • @applyearlyandoften I'm in business, if people don't deliver, I don't pay. Sends a clear message to them and any other cowboys looking for a free ride.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 11:49
  • Then I'd rephrase that first subphrase as you are willing to bother quite a bit, just not with altruistic intention.. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 12:24
  • @applyearlyandoften How I put it makes sense to me in that after I finished with them that's all I'm going to do, but my English isn't the best. Got a suggestion for rephrase?
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 12:29
  • 1
    I've added a suggested edit, you can decide if it is an improvement.. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 13:00

I would let them know, in a positive manner, if they never get feedback then they'll assume what they did was correct and carry on working that way for future clients, also causing them further problems. Better to learn whilst early on then later, it tends to make it a bit easier to adapt the methodologies of working.

However, there is a caveat to this, you should also ask them for feedback. There was obviously some kind of miscommunication between the two of you and I don't think it was all one sided. You've done a nice thing of paying and cutting your loses, but you can do more by taking this experience as something you can learn from too. Maybe you need to manage their expectations more, e.g. asking them not to continue work until you give the go ahead?

Be prepared though, if you're going to be negative to them, you will most likely get negativity back. Try to read between the lines and work out what you can improve upon and leave this one as a mistake.

On a final note, it's up to you if they are allowed to use the work in their portfolio, if you decided they can you might want to request your name being removed from it, so it's unlikely to be traced back to you if you are really unhappy about it.

  • 1
    This is a fair point, and I had taken it into account, except that the other artist I am working with (a seasoned professional) has told me that I am an excellent client. Now of course that could be flattery, but I find it unlikely given the circumstances the statements were made in
    – Devon M
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 2:08

Since they asked for your help and they're trying to build a reputation, I would lean towards constructive and honest feedback. For me, the criticism would be very blunt.

Do they expect you to make a recommendation or use the work product as part of their portfolio? You need to let them know, if anyone asks about your experience, it's going to be negative.

I would be willing to work with them if they can recognize their short-comings and wanted to honestly work to improve. Unfortunately, based on what you've said, they're no where close to that. They ruined an opportunity to build a reference.


This seems missing in the answers so far:

You first ask him if he wants feedback.

And you add conditions to that, because he has already been a time-waster for you. The conditions should restrict the time you spend on it. Maybe something like:

I will send you one email containing my side of the experience. No further discussions about that.


We will talk exactly 10 minutes on the phone, no more. I will tell you my experience with the situation.


would it be helpful if I were to let them know what they did wrong here, or would that just be picking a fight

Yes you should give feedback, constructive criticism is helpful to anyone. It just depends on how they take/use it. Ultimately you had a bad experience but it seems from how you described it that they simply couldn't work to the standard you needed them to.

Explain what was wrong with the piece though, not what was wrong with them. Be kind and courteous to them and explain why you think the way you do. Personally, I've produced work I think it incredible but in reality it's a bit naff. Sometimes you need to know a real second opinion.

Something like...

Thanks for the work you did for me, you could use the piece in your portfolio if you'd like to help you with getting more work. I don't think it was what I had exactly in my mind but it was on the right track.

In future maybe you could try doing xyz different which might help you doing abc perhaps? Once again, thanks for your time and good luck in the future.

Obviously, personalise it a bit and elaborate from there. If they come back to you and aren't to pleased with what you have to say, end it there and don't speak to them further. In the end, they've been paid well over what they might have deserved but they have something to show for it now. It's a bit different for you but as you put it yourself...

Having been in the very same situation only a little while ago myself, I empathised and asked if I could see a sketch.

  • I've edited in an attempt to clarify, I don't care about the piece, I completely understand the quality difference between a rookie and an experienced artist. The issue is how they handled the entire interaction
    – Devon M
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:49
  • Well, giving feedback is still a good thing to do, however it might not be a good idea. If there is a place to leave a review on the platform where you hired them that'd be an appropriate place. However, if you're emailing directly, I'd suggest sharing feedback with them only if they ask for it which may be unlikely.
    – user66194
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:52
  • Ok, I thought about that, but this early in their career a review like that could kill them
    – Devon M
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:53
  • True, ultimately, do what you think is best. You hired them to give them a chance and it didn't work out. There are two options, give them honest feedback which might sting them a bit, or just move along and have them work with other people and gradually improve (or not) from there. Like I said though, going directly to them and giving feedback when it hasn't been asked for might cause trouble.
    – user66194
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:55
  • Yeah, that was my thought, I'm going to see if others have other input though
    – Devon M
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 6:57

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